This is a must-see photography documentary called “Beyond: Varanasi, India“. It chronicles a large-scale photographic excursion to one of the more intense culture shocks a Westerner can experience; the traditional Indian way of living is almost immeasurably different from our own, and this video gives deep insight from an American perspective. See the whole inspiring film here:
A major lesson of this film deals with the importance of blending yourself into your surroundings, and not trying to affect your subject. A photojournalist’s job is to document the world around them, and never to interfere. It’s hard to tell by the footage they show us, but the bulk of their trip was more experience than shooting. Before photographing any subject, they meet the person and come to know them before they ever point a lens at them.
Respect is an element to this type of work that cannot be treated lightly. It is only human to form ideas of other places and people in our minds, but the task of photojournalism isn’t really to tell – it’s to listen, and let your subjects do the telling. Experience creates the photo, not the other way around. See more of Joey L‘s project here: Holy Men.
Some elements of this project may be bizarre to many of us. These men experience some unsettling and possibly disturbing rituals that people will practice in the quest for spiritual liberation. The content deals heavily with death – fear, horror, acceptance, and the ugly question of disposing of the body that remains.
Being a heavily spiritual people, the Indian approach to these ideas is sometimes vastly different that what most of us are used to. This only serves as a reminder of the importance of keeping the mind open, and not rigid – of knowing that not everything in the world has to be “good” or “bad” by necessity; many things are simply different, and we do better to embrace that difference, for it is what gives life to our images, and brings imagery to our lives.
“Whenever I photograph somebody one of my main challenges is always presenting them with a sense of dignity. I photograph what people would consider a lot of ancient subjects – so, tribes living in ways that they have for thousands of years… What I want to do is present them as if they’re living in the 21st century, because they are.” – Joey L
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